|The Holy Family Window, St Joseph, a young Jesus, and the BVM.|
The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today’s reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about “titles” and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples’ Father – and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we’ve always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn’t mean “some are better than/more important than others” but rather “rule” (archy) “of priests” (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.
How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us? Let’s look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:
For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons.
For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future.
For our estimation, that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.
If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively. We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and – most importantly – not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn’t exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?
Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation – pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.
Yet our sins are only in the present.
Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here’s the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn’t that fun? Let’s plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler – or even in our diary – wow how awesome!
Who would be first, must be servant to all.
We cannot be a servant if we’re planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else “out of” them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it’s not what it supposed to be – chastity, love, service – then something’s going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.
Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I’ve been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it’s not the Papal Monarchy, it’s the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone’s a Pope world of Protestantism. If I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I’d be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that’s probably more like it).
Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I’ve never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble. And yet I’ve seen it three times in my lifetime. Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he’s no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he’s no Avignon Papacy. I’m not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.
These men, of course, are not the only ones – such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the “spiritual but not religious” nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world. We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble – even with great power; what it means to be a servant, – even when a leader.
If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.